The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
Home > On-line Edition > Biography

Cicely Henrietta Alexander, 1864-1932

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1864
Place of Birth: Reigate
Date of Death: 1932
Place of Death:


Cicely Henrietta Alexander was the second daughter of the banker and collector W. C. Alexander and Rachel Agnes Lucas. She had three brothers and six sisters. She married Bernard Spring Rice in 1906.


According to W. C. Alexander, he commissioned JW to paint his daughters in 1872 because he admired Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101). JW's mother, Anna Whistler, wrote to Cicely's mother on 26 August 1872 recommending a dress JW had designed for Cicely's portrait (Nocturne en bleu et argent (YMSM 149), Design for a dress for Miss Cicely H. Alexander (M.503), #07571). JW suggested that the material be bought from a second hand shop called Aked's, just off Leicester Square, or from Farmer and Rodger's Great Cloak and Shawl Emporium at 119 Great Regent Street. Cicely's mother made the dress according to JW's instructions.

In November 1872 Cicely was posing twice a week for her portrait in JW's studio at 2 Lindsey Houses, Chelsea. The work required over seventy sittings before it was completed. Cicely was taking dancing lessons during the period she posed for JW. Although her pose looks rather balletic, it may have been intended to reflect Manet's Lola de Valence (1862; Musée d'Orsay, Paris) rather than Cicely's ballet lessons specifically.

Cicely later described her sittings to the Pennells: 'I'm afraid I rather considered that I was a victim all through the sittings, or rather standings, for he never let me change my position, and I believe I used to get very tired and cross and often finished the day in tears'. JW's painting perfectly conveys this sulkiness. At the Pall Mall Gallery in 1874, critics described it as 'a disagreeable presentment of a disagreeable young lady' and 'An arrangement of Silver and bile'.

Cicely also left an important description of JW's working method: 'he used to stand a good way from the canvas, and then dart at it, and then dart back, and he often turned round to look in a looking glass that hung over the mantlepiece at his back'.

Cicely's sisters Agnes Mary ('May') and Grace also posed for JW (see Miss May Alexander (YMSM 127), Portrait of Miss Grace Alexander (YMSM 130), Sketch for 'Portrait of Miss Grace Alexander' (M.506)). W. C. Alexander acquired a group of pen drawings which included portraits of Cicely (Design for a dress for Miss Cicely H. Alexander (M.503)), May (Study for 'Portrait of Miss May Alexander' (M.498) and Study for 'Portrait of Miss May Alexander' (M.499)) and Grace (Sketch for 'Portrait of Miss Grace Alexander' (M.506), Sketch for 'Portrait of Miss Grace Alexander' (M.507)).


Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995.